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Sudan: Mass rallies turn deadly

June 30, 2019

In the first protests since the military crackdown a month ago, tens of thousands of people called for civilian rule. The army forced out long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir three months ago.

People shout slogans as they march on the streets demanding the ruling military hand over to civilians
Image: Reuters/U. Bektas

At least seven people died and scores of people were injured at mass protests in Sudan on Sunday. A military leader said snipers were firing at civilians and troops during the nation-wide protest against military rule.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the head of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), said several of his paramilitaries have already been targeted.

"There are snipers who are firing on people; they shot three members of the Rapid Support Force and five or six citizens," said Dagalo, who is also deputy chief of the ruling military council.

"There are infiltrators, people who want to jeopardize progress," Dagalo said in televised remarks, pledging to bring the offenders to justice.

'Massive deployment' of security forces

Fear of violence ran high in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where thousands of protesters were marching towards the country's defense ministry, nearly three months after the military ousted President Omar al-Bashir

The "million-man" march — a protest against Sudan's ruling generals — is seen as a test for protest organizers who said that security forces used live rounds to disperse a sit-in on June 3. 

Sudanese people were out in big numbers on the streets of Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri. Sudanese journalist Alsanosi Adam told DW: "There is a massive deployment of police officers, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and security forces."

Earlier, police fired tear gas at protesters as crowds gathered for the rally, according to witnesses cited by the Agence France-Presse news agency. Reuters reported security forces "firing shots in the air." 

Protest in Khartoum
Protesters in Khartoum chanted 'civilian rule'Image: AFP/A. Shazly

'Power grab'

Security forces raided the offices of one of Sudan's main opposition groups, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the group said late on Saturday, forcing it to nix a press conference ahead of major protests.

The SPA and the military have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks, disagreeing over the timeline for a transition to democracy after the protest movement ousted al-Bashir. Since talks between the two groups broke down earlier this month, a violent crackdown has killed at least 128 people across the country, according to protest organizers.

Demonstrators have repeatedly accused the military of attempting a power grab.

"This represents a violation of liberties that is even worse than the regime of the former president," SPA spokesman Ahmed al-Rabie told the Reuters news agency after the raid on its offices.

"This is a bad sign for the atmosphere of mediation between the two parties."

Military warns potential 'vandals'

Ahead of the marches in cities and towns across the nation, the military warned that protest leaders would be punished over any "vandals" who caused property damage or blocked roads on Sunday.

Organizers took this as a veiled threat against the protesters as a whole. The military, however, has said that it does not oppose the marches.

After weeks of sit-ins outside military headquarters and repeated attempts to broker dialogue, it seemed on Saturday as if the army had accepted a proposal made by neighboring Ethiopia and the African Union, to which the opposition had already tacitly agreed.

Read more: Sudan protesters suspend talks with military leadership

dj, es/jm (Reuters, AP)

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